humanities computing centres: a typology (77)

Tue, 18 Apr 89 20:24:51 EDT

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 857. Tuesday, 18 Apr 1989.

Date: Mon, 17 Apr 89 19:38:26 EDT
From: George Brett <ghb@ecsvax>
Subject: humanities computing centers - a perspective

I have observed a number of different "cultures" within academic
computing. In some respects these "cultures" represent levels of
commitment from the local college or university. The "levels"
provide one way of looking at support. I would be most interested
in hearing/reading about other models.

Level I: At the lowest level we find a faculty member as 'de facto'
computer support agent for a department or school. This person may or
may not be supported by a formal computing center on campus. Even if
there is a computing center, the center staff may not "officially"
support hardware or software used by the humanities faculty. (In some
cases I have heard of a graduate student, undergraduate student, or
staff member in this role. However, most often the "champion" is a
faculty member.)

Level II: The campus computing center often offers the next level of
support. This is a case when the center has user support staff who are
assigned clientele either by hardware or software. A major difficulty
here is that the staff rarely have any knowledge of specific
disciplines beyond computer science.

NOTE: It has been my experience that in most cases the first
two levels exist simultaneously. This happens for many
reasons: politics, expediency, personality conflicts,
economics, familiarity with content, or preference of
non-supported hardware and/or software.

Level III: At this level of support there would be full time computing
consultant(s) / programmer(s) assigned to the department or school.
Following a library paradigm where the support person is both an expert
in the field within the humanities as well as an expert at reference
librarianship for the humanities. The same should apply for
computing. The consultant/programmer should be a humanist as well as a
computing expert. This person or persons should be supported with
higher level experts at the university or campus level.

Level IV: The fourth level is a computing center that is dedicated to
the humanities. This may have a staff as few as two or as many as
budgets permit. The emphasis here is that this model is a centralized
form of Level Three that serves more than one department or school.

Level V: The fifth level is the humanities computing research
"institute" or "center" such as the one at the University of Toronto. I
have not visited one of these sites. However, from reading and
comments I would imagine this center would provide resources for
research into the application of computing technology to the
humanities. Such an institute would also promote or support such
research by other faculty.

The humanities computing research center would not necessarily
perform direct support for end users as would a campus computing
center. My vison of this center is an extension of the library model:
Here you have a major Research Library and a Research & Design
Institute with multiple resources including diverse personnel and
latest technology. In-house staff would include technicians and
scholars who not only provide solutions to existing problems, but also
develop answers to problems that most people do not even know of.

The reader will notice that as the levels go higher the support center
administration becomes more centralized. This fact might support the
case that a Level V Center should be a regional, state-wide, or
national center.